Alternative Devotions

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kelley nikondeha -alternative devotions-2

I started doing my daily devotions differently since November 2016. After the U.S. election I could not listen to the voices, often white ones, that contributed to the 81% evangelical vote. Already committed to diverse voices, I became more strident. I ran in the opposite direction to try and create a counter-balance to what just happened—or at least temper it as best I could.

But that wasn’t entirely sustainable. I needed a plan to help me not only weather the coming storm, but also embody something different amid the turbulence that engulfed my heart and mind. What I decided to change, was my morning devotion.

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I. Poetry as Devotion

In a season awash in half-truths and lies, where nothing seemed real or right, I needed an anchor. Exposed to so much ugliness, including within my own heart, I craved an antidote. Poetry has always been a vehicle for truth and beauty, so I determined to press in one poem at a time to what was deeply true, what held a beauty the news cycle could not tarnish.

I began each morning by reading two or three poems. I’d turn them slowly in my hand like a polished stone, attentive to the weight of the words and the shape of the metaphors. I’d inhale the phrases like fresh cut flowers and savor the sounds of words, line breaks and endings. I focused on what was true, what was good, and what was worth my gaze. Even the rhythm of poetry calibrated my morning differently, giving an alternative pace to my otherwise harried days. Each poem invited me to stop and listen. My shoulders dropped. I touched moments of peace that eluded me otherwise.

Since that shock-cold morning in November, I’ve read more poetry than I have in years. I’ve read Clint Smith, Tamim Al-Barghouti, Remi Kanazi, Mohja Kahf and Zeina Hashem Beck. I revisited favorites like Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry and Polishing the Petoskey Stone by Luci Shaw. Right now I am reading Hafiz, allowing myself to be dazzled by a mystic. Poetry keeps a hallowed pulse for me. It puts me in a space where truth and beauty can reach me before anything else in the day.

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II. Writing as Devotion

With too many things happening day after day on the national level, I felt like a victim of a quickly approaching avalanche. What could I do against the landslide of injustice? The sensation of smallness engulfed me. So I joined other women across the country to march. Stepping out onto the streets with strangers at the Women’s March opened me to solidarity as we walked downtown Phoenix together. I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t powerless.

The women who lead this march encouraged and taught us how to write postcards to our senators. It is so simple, but since I’d never written my leaders before I did not know where to start until these women offered a simple template.

I am Kelley Nikondeha,. I am from Maricopa, Arizona. I am concerned about (fill in the blank). Here’s why (share a few sentences).

I wrote six postcards each morning for that first week and sent to my senators. It was a small act, but it was something I could do to make my voice heard amid the political cacophony.

Now I write about eight postcards each morning based on the news. I watch the nightly news and see what issues are impinging on my neighbors. Then the next morning I write with my neighbors in mind, what I want lawmakers to be mindful of as they legislate on our behalf. This has become a practical way to embody my devotion to my neighbors, to incarnate neighbor love as it relates to public policy. I think about what will impact my immigrant neighbors, my Muslim neighbors, the neighbors struggling to stay above the poverty line or are in desperate need of their healthcare to survive—and I write as an act of devotion.

***

Every morning I begin with a few poems and a handful of postcards. I pray as I read and as I write. I consider what is true and beautiful. I demonstrate devotion to my neighbors with each handwritten postcard. This has become my alternative devotion during fraught times.

I am currently working on my next project right out of the Exodus narrative of liberation. Everyday I am reading about midwives and mothers, adolescent women, elite women and enslaved women who work together to save their children from injustice. They encourage me to keep marching even as Pharaoh sits on the imperial throne. Together we will see liberation, but it is a long walk to freedom and we need some sustainable practices to get there!

_______________________

Here are some of the poetry books Kelley recommends:

“Counting Descent” by Clint Smith
“In Jerusalem And Other Poems” by Tamim Al-Barghouti
“Before The Next Bomb Drops” by Remi Kanazi
“Hagar Poems” by Mohja Kahf
“To Live In Autumn” by Zeina Hashem Beck
“Sabbath Poems” by Wendell Berry
“Polishing the Petoskey Stone” by Luci Shaw
“I Heard God Laughing” by Hafiz

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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